Save Dhaka! - Beware of land grabbers!!

Published on Thursday, June 17, 2010

From the perception of environmentalists Dhaka City will turn into an abandoned city soon unless some preventive measures be adopted immediately. During the last 25 years or so Dhaka city has undergone rapid urbanization in an unplanned manner. Albeit, the process of urbanisation denotes economic development, an unplanned and haphazard development has already made Dhaka one of the ugliest cities of the world. Urbanisation, without considering the geological aspects has left a significant impact in geo-environment of the city area. Water logging, pollution, changes in hydro-geological system, and building collapse are the severe consequences of these geo-environmental changes. Over the last 30 years, ground water withdrawal has increased more than 90% lowering the water level by 20m. Moreover, the earthquake disaster risk index has ranked Dhaka the second most vulnerable cities in the world. Dhaka with its population of around 13 million and enormous poorly constructed and dilapidated structures signifies extremely vulnerable conditions for massive loss of lives and property in the event of a moderately large earthquake.

In the above context RAJUK has adopted Dhaka Structured Plan, Master Plan and Detailed Area Plan (DAP) in 1992 with a view to controlling the unplanned spawning of Dhaka city. Unfortunately, due to lethargic efforts of the past government s, these plans have not been formulated in right direction till date. Thanks to the incumbent government as it has initiated a fresh drive to implement DAP. For this, already a draft Detailed Area Plan (DAP) has been produced by a Review Committee headed by the noted urban development expert Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury. This draft DAP reserves 21 percent of the capital's land as water bodies where no development will be permitted. This reservation of the city land, no doubt, is a must for ensuring the natural drainage of the city. It may be mentioned that already many of wetlands, canals, and depressions have been filled up for new urbanization, both in and around the built-up city area. The unplanned urbanizations have been destroying the water-bodies and flow-paths causing rainfall-flooding and drainage congestion in many locations in the city.

Unfortunately, ignoring the possible devastating consequences of unplanned development of the city, leading real estate developers of the country are now vehemently opposing the proposed DAP for their vested interest. It is surprising to note that in a discussion meeting real estate developer leaders launched into a tirade against State Minister for Housing Abdul Mannan Khan at a meeting on DAP as it has emphasised 21% reservation of the city land as water bodies. Realtors have openly expressed their frustration as the draft DAP has failed to accommodate their vested interest. At one point in the discussion, Basundhara Group Chairman Mr.Shah Alam, the apex realtor of the country blasted the minister, "You can't say whatever you will, just because you are a minister. You had insulted me before. Where do you get this courage?" What an audacity this is! An objective analyse surely reveals that the major real estate developers of the country to fulfill their sinful greed have damaged the geo-environmental aspects of the city to a great extent. A quote from the state Minister Mr. Mannan in this context "Developers first buy small pieces of land in an area and then hang a nice name for housing project there. After that, they start selling other peoples' land along with the ones they have purchased. … You (developers) place attractive advertisement to sell lands that is 20 feet under water. You are deceiving people who spend their life savings for a plot" has rightly captured the culture of the major realtors of the country. These land grabbers not only have grabbed the lands of poor people, they have also grabbed the rivers, canals and other wet lands to initiate their 'glossy' housing projects. Just consider the case of River Balu. Will the owners of the major real estates answer how much areas of this river have been grabbed and filled with earth to erect their housing projects? How much damages it has caused to the environment?

No, doubt, urbanization is an inevitable phenomenon and for this we need new housing projects to accommodate the increasing numbers of population in the city. But this should not be at the cost of the environmental aspects of the city. For saving Dhaka from severe disasters, unplanned urbanization must be stopped and new developments must follow the Detail Area Plan. We should not bow to the greed of any vested quarters.

However, a pessimistic view suggests that as the most of the major real estate developers in our country have turned themselves millionaires and in a petit-bourgeois country like ours they have tremendous impact on political parties and in the event of election, they act as kingmakers, and it is very difficult for any political government to move any action against their interest. Still we applaud the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's vow, "We will implement the detailed area plan (DAP) to save Dhaka city. We will not care if it's inconveniencing anyone … We cannot cater to a few greedy persons." Dear Prime Minister, please keep up this pro-people and pro-environmental gesture. Conscious people of the country will always be with you as long as your government stays in line with peoples' aspiration.

(Md. Anwarul Kabir is a university academic at AIUB. email:

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